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HMNZS Achilles (70)
HMNZS Achilles
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Achilles
Builder: Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, England
Laid down: 11 June 1931
Launched: 1 September 1932
Commissioned: 10 October 1933
Out of service: Loaned to Royal New Zealand Navy 1 October 1936
Identification: Pennant number: 70
Fate: Sold to Indian Navy 5 July 1948
Career (New Zealand)
Name: HMNZS Achilles
Commissioned: 1 October 1941
Decommissioned: 17 September 1946
Identification: Pennant number: 70
Fate: Returned to Royal Navy 17 September 1946
General characteristics
Class & type: Leander-class light cruiser
Displacement: 7,270 tons standard
9,740 tons full load (Oct 1945)
Length: 555.5 ft (169.3 m)
Beam: 56 ft (17 m)
Draught: 19.1 ft (5.8 m)
Installed power: 73,280 shaft horsepower (54,640 kW)
Propulsion: Four Parsons geared steam turbines
Six Yarrow boilers
Four shafts
Speed: 32.5 knots (60 km/h)
Range: 5,730 nmi at 13 knots
Complement: peacetime 550
wartime 680

Original configuration:
8[1] × BL 6 inch Mk XXIII naval guns[2]
4 × 4 in guns
12 × 0.5 in machine guns

8 × 21 in torpedo tubes

3 in magazine box 1 inch deck

1 inch turrets
Aircraft carried: Catapult-launched Fairey Seafox
Amphibious Supermarine Walrus
Radio controlled DH.82 Queen Bee
Honours & awards: River Plate 1939, Guadalcanal 1942-43, Okinawa 1945[3]

HMNZS Achilles was a Leander-class light cruiser which served with the Royal New Zealand Navy in the Second World War. She became famous for her part in the Battle of the River Plate, alongside Ajax and Exeter.

She was the second of five ships of the Leander-class light cruisers, designed as effective follow-ons to the York-class. Upgraded to Improved Leander-class, she could carry an aircraft and was the first ship to carry a Supermarine Walrus, although both Walruses were lost before the Second World War began. At one time she carried the unusual DH.82 Queen Bee which was a radio-controlled unmanned aircraft, normally used as a drone.

After Second World War service in the Atlantic and Pacific, she was sold to the Indian Navy in 1948 and recommissioned as INS Delhi. She was scrapped in 1978.

Achilles was the first Royal Navy Cruiser to have fire control radar, with the installation of the New Zealand-made SS1 fire-control radar in June 1940.[4]


Achilles was originally built for the Royal Navy, and was commissioned as HMS Achilles on 10 October 1933. She would serve with the Royal Navy's New Zealand Division from 31 March 1937 up to the creation of the Royal New Zealand Navy, into which she was transferred in September 1941 and renamed HMNZS Achilles. Her crew was approximately 60 per cent from New Zealand.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Achilles began patrolling the west coast of South America looking for German merchant ships, but by 22 October 1939 she had arrived at the Falkland Islands, where she was assigned to the South American Division under Commodore Henry Harwood and allocated to Force G (Exeter and Cumberland).

Battle of the River Plate

Achilles as seen from Ajax at the Battle of the River Plate

In the early morning of 13 December 1939, a force consisting of Achilles, Ajax and Exeter detected smoke on the horizon, which was confirmed at 06:16 to be a pocket battleship, thought to be the Admiral Scheer but which turned out to be the Admiral Graf Spee. A fierce battle ensued, at a range of approximately 20 kilometres (11 nmi). Achilles suffered some damage. In the exchange of fire, four crew were killed, her captain, W. E. Parry, was wounded; 36 of Graf Spee’s crew were killed.

The range reduced to about 4 nautical miles (7.4 km) at around 07:15 and Graf Spee broke off the engagement around 07:45 to head for the neutral harbour of Montevideo which she entered at 22:00 that night, having been pursued by Achilles and Ajax all day. Graf Spee was forced by international law to leave within 72 hours. Faced with what he believed to be overwhelming odds, the captain of the Graf Spee, Hans Langsdorff, scuttled his ship rather than risk the lives of his crew.

Pacific theatre

Following the Atlantic battle, Achilles returned to Auckland, New Zealand on 23 February 1940, where she underwent a refit until June. After German raider activity in the South Pacific during 1940 Achilles escorted the first Trans-Tasman commercial convoy, VK.1, composed of Empire Star, Port Chalmers, Empress of Russia, and Maunganui leaving Sydney 30 December 1940 for Auckland.[5] After Japan entered the war, she escorted troop convoys, then joined the ANZAC Squadron in the south-west Pacific.

Achilles met HMAS Canberra, flagship of Rear-Admiral John G. Crace, and HMAS Perth in December 1941 to form an escort for the Pensacola Convoy.[6]

While operating off New Georgia Island with US Navy forces, a bomb damaged her X turret on 5 January 1943. Between April 1943 and May 1944 Achilles was docked in Portsmouth, England for repairs. Her damaged X turret was replaced by four QF 2 pom poms in a quadruple-mount. Sent back to the New Zealand Fleet, Achilles next joined the British Pacific Fleet in May 1945 for final operations in the Pacific War.

Indian Navy

After the war, Achilles was returned to the Royal Navy at Sheerness in Kent, England on 17 September 1946. She was then sold to the Indian Navy and recommissioned on 5 July 1948 as INS Delhi. She remained in service until decommissioned for scrap in Bombay on 30 June 1978. As part of the scrapping her Y turret was removed and presented as a gift to the New Zealand government. It is now on display at the entrance of Devonport Naval Base in Auckland.

Achilles played herself in the film The Battle of the River Plate in 1956.


  1. Lenton & Colledge 1968 p.39
  2. Campbell 1985 p.34
  3. HMS Achilles - Leander-class Light Cruiser
  5. Gill 1957, p. 284.
  6. Gill 1957, p. 510.


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